Tony Award-winning playwright David Henry Hwang spoke Thursday about his experience of being an Asian-American in the arts, the influence of the arts on the human experience and strategies for writing a good play.
Visions and Voices hosted Hwang, known for his play and film M. Butterfly in addition to several other works, at Town and Gown.
Throughout his speech, he noted art as being a tool for self-discovery. He pointed out, however, that what is important is the journey toward self-discovery.
“If art is a tool for self discovery, then self discovery is an art, and in all these arts there is a result, but really the experience and the richness comes from going through the process,” Hwang said. “So it is the process that is the cake and everything else the icing.”
Following this trajectory, he explored his childhood experience as an Asian American. Hwang said there was a monoculture in America and the goal of immigrants was to fit this monoculture as closely as possible.
“Growing up in the 1960s in California, I didn’t think much about being Chinese,” Hwang said. “I knew I was, but I didn’t think that it held any importance because during that period we were living through monoculturism. The goal of immigrants was to aspire to be like real Americans. In those days, the model was European.”
Hwang continued on to describe how art helped him realize his place in society and history.
“The one time I turned to writing was to try to conceptualize myself — to try to understand who I was in a larger social and historical continuum,” Hwang said.
He concluded that portion of his talk by suggesting that Asian parents need to allow their children to become more involved in arts regardless of what success they achieve.
“Often when I talk to Asian parents, I always say that it’s great that you acknowledge artists like myself who have had some success,” he said, “but what is really important is that you honor young people when they go into the arts because they are the people who really need your support.”
During Hwang’s presentation, he offered the audience some strategies he employs for writing plays. He encouraged the audience to allow the subconscious to become more prominent when they write plays. Hwang said this allows the story to become more three-dimensional.
“Lots of times when we begin to do anything, we approach it with our conscious mind, we try to control it and that’s understandable,” Hwang said. “But the conscious mind only has so much knowledge. It is only able to reach so deep. Whereas with the subconscious, you’re willing to go to the unknown, you’re willing to take risks. Oftentimes, you end with wrong turns, but other times, that’s really when your work comes to life.”
For Eun Jee Song, a graduate student studying communication management, the event was an opportunity for her to see a man she admires.
“It was really impressive, especially the part about multiculturalism,” Song said. “There was a new movement when he grew up, and he was a pioneer.”